Online and in book stores, there’s no shortage of books about sex. We’re fascinated by it and we all know it sells – and if Fifty Shades of Grey taught us anything it’s that sex doesn’t need to be written well to fly off the shelves. The problem is, though, that good books about sex are hard to come by. If you’re looking for some of the best nonfiction sex books, you’ve found the right blog post. As a sex fanatic (in the sense that I’m a fanatical sex writer, obviously…), I’m forever buying, receiving and reading books about sex. I’ve done the research so you don’t have to.
The list below contains books that encourage readers to reassess their understanding of love, sex, connection and romance – with others and ourselves. Not all the books I recommend here are exclusively geared towards enhancing our sex lives because, I believe, we have “better sex” when we’re more comfortable with our bodies and more understanding of ourselves and others.
These books helped me to find that comfort. I hope they’ll help you, too.
10) Untrue by Wednesday Martin
Untrue is a great starting point for those who think men are biologically determined to want sex with loads of different women all of the time and women are programmed to want sex with one man, stay faithful and then resign themselves to a sex life that’s dwindling.
Against a backdrop of cultural attitudes, Martin examines scientific approaches and findings about sex throughout history to the present day. She criticises the notion that there are women who want sex too much and takes a closer look at sex parties and polyamorous relationships.
If you’ve read lots of books about sex and female desire, you probably won’t find the content particularly fresh but if you’re looking for an introduction to the “surprising new science of the female libido”, this book is for you.
9) The Ethical Slut (Third Edition) by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton
Convinced non-monogamy isn’t for you or curious about what a polyamorous approach to romance might look like? In The Ethical Slut, Hardy and Easton “offer the techniques, skills, and ideals they have developed for practising successful and ethical polyamory” that will be instrumental in “redefining the way you relate to friends and lovers”. In this revised third edition, the authors take a look at overcoming sexual shame and suggest the practice of controlling sexual behaviour became more widespread after the Industrial Revolution. They tackle the thorny issue of jealousy and conflict, particularly concerning polyamorous relationships, and provide exercises throughout to support communication.
If you’re looking for a sex-positive book to help you find your desires and enhance your friendships and romances, this is the book for you.
8) The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating (4th Edition) by David M. Buss
Buss is one of the world’s leading evolutionary psychologists studying human mating behaviour. This classical book has been fully revised and updated to reflect the latest scientific research in the field and no claim is left unsubstantiated. Buss details mankind’s evolutionary strategies for sexual selection and retention (what the research shows us men and women of different sexual orientations desire in the short- and the long-term). He explores global trends and cultural distinctions in people’s sexual fantasies and examines jealousy, compromise, deception, infidelity and abuse.
If you’re looking for a more accessible scientific textbook on sex and desire, start with this book by Buss.
7) Don’t Hold My Head Down by Lucy-Anne Holmes
A few years ago, I had the joy of attending a Waterstones talk featuring the book Don’t Hold My Head Down by Lucy-Anne Holmes. Reading from parts of her book, Holmes had me crying with laughter – reading the book didn’t disappoint.
Feeling like a sex novice in her mid-thirties, Holmes went “in search of some brilliant fucking” and documented her journey. In Don’t Hold My Head Down, we traverse through tantric sex, BDSM and sexual wellness retreats, take a closer look at the intricacies of consent, explore themes of body image, porn’s portrayal of sex and navigate orgasms galore, all through Holmes’ witty observations. Her hilarious take on sexual awakening will strike a chord with women (and quite possibly men) everywhere.
If you’re after an amusing romp between the bedsheets and in the camping field (with a smattering of science and feminism thrown in for good measure), try Don’t Hold My Head Down.
6) Sex by The School of Life
According to The School of Life, we haven’t nearly begun thinking about sex deeply enough. We might think we’ve been sexually liberated, but “sex remains an extraordinarily complicated business, hard to discuss and surrounded by shame and unspoken desires.” In each chapter, various sexual desires are explored: kissing, anal sex, uniforms, BDSM, age play, bisexuality, and our love of porn (amongst others). The authors hope to diminish unnecessary shame around sex so we can have meaningful and honest conversations with our lovers about “hitherto forbidden aspects of ourselves”.
Rather than painting porn as “the enemy of sexual relationships”, Sex recognises that porn can reduce loneliness (other people feel turned on by this, too!) and invites us to consider what might help us feel aroused, how our ideal sex lives might look and what we could offer someone else. “Unfortunately, porn doesn’t provide very good answers to these questions.”
As is often the case with books by The School of Life, readers should expect psychology and theology and insights that once articulated, seem so blindingly obvious that you won’t forget them. “The other person’s willingness to do the most intimate bodily things with us is the outward sign of their inward acceptance of who we are.”
If you’re a thinker, looking for a fresh take on sexual connection, delve into this book.
5) The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon
In The Wrong Knickers, Telegraph columnist (Bryony Gordon) takes the reader on a hilariously candid tour of her “chaotic” twenties. Chaotic because the “perfect” life she had planned and expected for her twenties, doesn’t materialise. Instead, she’s “having the complete opposite of the life I imagined I would.” In the opening pages, we meet Gordon amidst her first one-night stand with Josh. While she’s simultaneously fantasising about their future life together and worrying whether Josh is into her “or if he simply admires my tits,” Josh is reaching for a pack of butter to smother over Gordon’s vulva. She lies and says she’s lactose intolerant; she’ll later berate herself for not walking out into the Fulham night. The next morning, as Josh springs out of bed claiming to be late for work, he flings “size 8 Agent Provocateur” knickers to Gordon. These are not her knickers.
Gordon’s memoir of twentysomething metropolitan life oozes with tales of big nights out, on a quest for a half-decent shag to bolster self-esteem: “The more lovers I have, I reason, the more attractive I must be.” Of dating and spotting red flags yet pressing on: “He is a twenty-six-year-old man who owns only four books. I should have left then.” Of dates gone wrong but struggling to find her voice: “Why don’t I have the confidence to assert my right not to have my genitals covered in butter?” Of drinking gin and tonics with a friend, picking apart the reason you were ghosted: “‘There must be some sort of psychological condition to explain this [behaviour],’ I tell my friend Chloe… ‘Yes there is,’ she replied without hesitation. ‘It’s called being needy.’” Of the anxiety over being too forward the morning after sleeping with someone: “… the irony is, for the moment, lost on me.” Of navigating coupled-up friendships as a perpetual singleton: “‘I live my life vicariously through you…’ and other phrases you don’t want to hear when you’re single.”
If your twenties or thirties weren’t quite as you hoped, this book is for you.
4) Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel
“In recent years, two requirements have emerged for good sex: consent and self-knowledge,” writes Angel. Published in the aftermath of #MeToo, Angel’s impressive book explores female desire, empowerment and consent in the most nuanced of ways. She educates us on the research into women’s (and men’s) desire to date and considers how our culture shapes how we perceive arousal, desire, consent and vulnerability, as well as the interplay between these factors. “Desire isn’t always there to be known. Vulnerability is the state that makes its discovery possible.”
Throughout the book, Angel poses questions to the reader before searching for answers. “Does women’s sexual liberation… depend on their sexuality being like men’s? In postwar sexology, the answer to that question was clear: sexual equality lies in sameness.”
Don’t worry, this isn’t a feminist polemic against men. Angel suggests that we need to redefine our language around sex and acknowledge that men can be vulnerable in sex too. “Requiring that men be permanently up for it, constantly asserting libido and achieving conquest, only sets them up to fail, too [author’s italics].”
If you’re looking for an exquisitely-written book about sex that puts culture and science side by side under the microscope, read Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again.
(Related article: Sex can only be good again once we better understand each other – a look at Promising Young Woman, I May Destroy You and Angel’s book.)
3) Unmastered by Katherine Angel
Yes, another book by Angel. This is “a book on desire, most difficult to tell,” exploring the boundary “between masculine and feminine, thought and sensation, self and culture and power and pliancy”. Both spilling the contents of her mind and contemplating what her lover is thinking, Angel at once sees her lover through her own eyes and attempts to see herself through his eyes. “Fucking him. I feel there is something posturing, fraudulent, about it. I can’t really fuck him not in the way he fucks me. Not really.”
The book reads more like a sequence of musings than a story or memoir, it’s a look at what it means to feel rapacious desire, painful longing and the “bitter side of love”. To give your entire body to someone while simultaneously hiding your inner feelings. “He does not know… of his regular outings in my head, when I am alone, when he is not in my bed.”
If you’re feeling romantic, randy and whimsical, Unmastered will entertain you this summer.
2) Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski
If you read just one book from this list, make it Nagoski’s book Come As You Are. Like many other good books about sex, the author delves into the science of desire and sexuality, debunking myths and maintaining “we’re all normal” to instil sexual confidence in the reader.
Nagoski explains the differences between Responsive and Spontaneous Desire – the former is a response to pleasure and the latter occurs in anticipation of pleasure. She divulges how, actually, “everyone’s sexual desire is responsive” but for some, it just feels more spontaneous because Spontaneous Desire is a response to a sexually arousing context, so arousal feels more spontaneous. These two pathways to subjective arousal can explain common (inaccurate) beliefs about sex such as the myth that men’s sexual desire is solely spontaneous – men want sex all the time – and women’s sexual desire is solely responsive – women need to be seduced first – and Nagoski carefully assesses each route.
A key takeaway from this book is that there is no such thing as a sex drive, rather sex brakes and accelerators that vary in sensitivity and are context-specific to each individual.
If you’re seeking out an incredible book about sex that will transform your sex life this book should be on your bedside table.
1) The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan
Undoubtedly one of the best books about sex I’ve read, in The Right to Sex, Srinivasan examines sex through a political lens – urging us “to move beyond ‘yes and no’, wanted and unwanted”. She navigates consent, expectations, gender expression, biological sex, race, sexuality, feminism, the incel movement, culture vs individual sexual motive and behaviour, and the philosophy and politics of sex.
The case against porn is well known but not well expanded upon. Srinivasan’s chapter “Talking to My Students About Porn” is where her writing particularly shines as she goes beyond claiming that, for many young people, porn is taking the place of inadequate sex education. But improving sex ed isn’t the answer: “Porn is powerful. The hope it can be neutered through education doesn’t take seriously enough the power it has – not as speech, but as film.” She argues that teachers are ill-equipped (she’s an Oxford University professor herself) to teach sex education. Firstly, who teaches the teachers? And let us not forget that teachers are normal people and quite probably watch porn. “Porn does not inform, or persuade, or debate. Porn trains.” Porn trains teachers, too. “Sex for my students is what porn says it is.” Yet Srinivasan also notes that Gen-Zers of today, whilst growing up with the internet and unending access to porn, might be somewhat protected by their tech-savvy upbringing compared with the apocalyptic viewpoint from which older Millennials and Baby Boomers see porn as education. Her solution? Perhaps a total cessation of porn.
If you want beautifully eloquent writing that looks at sex in all the contexts it exists in, The Right to Sex is a book not to miss.
Watch last month’s 5×15 talk: Amia Srinivasan in conversation with Lisa Taddeo.
Is your head feeling foggy with non-fiction books about sex? Here’s a bonus book: a fantastic novel with some of the most well-written sex scenes I’ve read from a female’s perspective (and I’m an erotic scriptwriter…).
Bonus: Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan
In Daisy Buchanan’s debut novel Insatiable, the female protagonist wants a better job, more money and more sex. And my, how she has more sex. Buchanan writes sex scenes exquisitely well; you’ll find yourself shifting in your seat, salivating at the orgies and thinking about it long after you close the book.
If you’re looking for a saucy tale to get you through the hot summer months, you’ll love Insatiable.
What are your favourite books about sex? Fiction and non-fiction welcome; comment below.
Photo by Jr Tavares on Pexels.